By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act October 7, 2013 at 7:00PM
Sleepy Hollow - from co-creators/executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Transformers, Fringe) - a fantastical, supernatural, improbable and ludicrously entertaining new hit Fox series, which has already been renewed for a second season, follows Ichabod Crane in the retelling of Washington Irving’s classic tale.
But what’s exciting and fascinating to many of us is that the character of Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie, is not just another African American actor in a supporting role. She is, in fact, at the lead. Aside from that, Beharie’s Mills, a lieutenant in the town of Sleepy Hollow, is destined for greatness. she has been chosen by the book of revelation - and the grace of God if you will - to join Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) in stopping the four horsemen of the apocalypse and battle numerous demonic and evil forces in the process. In other words, Lieutenant Mills is instrumental in saving the modern world, as we now know it.
Beharie, as usual, delivers a certain air of sophistication, grace and maturity to Abbie Mills. She’s also relatable and wholly convincing as a well-grounded deputy who is skeptic of the supernatural forces she’s fighting against. We know Abbie has a sister named Jenny, played by Lyndie Greenwood (CW’s Nikita), who’s in a psychiatric ward. They were both foster children growing up, and after Abbie denies having witnessing the demon in the woods while they were children, Abbie succumbs to a life of petty crimes and drugs before she’s given another chance by her late partner - who's head was severed by the headless horseman - Sheriff Corbin.
She’s certainly a strong, resilient and courageous woman, but I wonder how much of those traits could possibly trap her character into the “strong black woman” stereotype as the season goes on. One could ponder upon the aforementioned archetype. We could also take into consideration Abbie’s sister Jenny, who is also another tough black woman. Are the black female characters too strong? Too independent? Not vulnerable enough? While certainly “strong minded” leads of color are appreciated, and, given the premise of the show – required - Abbie hasn’t quite cracked under the insurmountable pressure yet, at least to the extent that such a situation in real life would warrant.
When developing Abbie Mills character, it may also be a matter of “damn if you do and damn if you don’t.” Beharie's Abbie has been effectively emotive in several scenes, especially those that regard grieving Sheriff Corbin, who's a sort of paternal figure for her. And, if Ichabod Crane protected her and came to her rescue too much because, well… she’s emotionally fragile; she needs comfort and “someone to make her feel good;” because she’s a cute and petite lady under too much stress who needs to be shielded from this ugly world, then…. Abbie is just a damsel in distress; she’s just “the girlfriend” and a white man’s “side-piece;” cries about holy sexism and white patriarchy will abound.
After all, there’s no crying while trying to save world. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Which, by the way, I’m glad to note she hasn’t veered into “sassy black woman” territory, although there is plenty of spunk and clever banter between Abbie and Ichabod, which are some of the most compelling aspects of this show. It’s only three episodes in and still early in the season, which is shaping up to be more of a fun, must-suspend-belief supernatural/horror/thriller adventure than an intricate character study/drama, and we may be looking too much into it. To the writers credit however, her character, and Jenny’s, hint of more complexity to come, and more of a mysterious past yet to be unveiled.
There’s also the possible romantic storyline between Ichabod and Abbie. Debate on the TV’s politics of interracial casting aside, one has to wonder if Abbie, an impossibly beautiful and charming young woman, will indeed be involved in some sort of romantic liaison, whether with Ichabod or another character; it’s only human right? A quick search on tumblr with the #sleepyhollow #abbiemills tags, and you will find plenty of fans of the show “shipping” “Ichabbie.” Producers are holding off on such a predicament, and intelligently so. The factor of romantic tension will keep viewers tuning in week after week.
Sleepy Hollow has incorporated characters of several ethnic backgrounds so far to include an African American sheriff’s office captain (Orlando Jones), an Asian deputy-now-turned-demon played by John Cho, a modern-day Native American Shaman (Michael Teh) and a Latino ex-boyfriend (Nicholas Gonzalez). Producers seem very well conscious of diversity in TV casting. And although one could argue the issue of “tokenism,” the show’s characters so far, or a few of them, seem to be part of a greater universal scheme, within a historical context.
Take the “Shaman” character for instance in the last episode, who had the tools from his Native American forbearers to be tap into the spirit world to confront the Sandman. Or the victim in the second episode titled “Blood Moon,” who was the descendant of a magistrate who oversaw an evil witch’s burning over two centuries ago; his ashes would bring her back to life.
There is an underlying theme in the show of the foundation of this country: the revolutionary war, Ichabod Crane and his fight for Independence, his support for Native Americans and for the abolition of slavery. One can’t help to wonder, how does Abbie Mills fit into this historical timeline? Is she the descendant of a pivotal - and black of course - historical figure?
There are countless and very intriguing possibilities that the show could tap into. However, so far, there’s something to be said about the diversity in casting for the show. Kudos to Sleepy Hollow’s creators for incorporating influential characters of color, who are often ignored in the media; their efforts to not only include them, but to and make them culturally relevant in the modern fabric of this nation and give them due credit for its foundation, are nothing short admirable, even if overdue.